07 April 2020

On the frontline of Coronavirus for families and children: Bosnia & Herzegovina

Children confined in orphanages like Bjelave, the main institution in Sarajevo, are at greater risk from the pandemic than children who live in families.

Around the world, Hope and Homes for Children’s skilled and experienced frontline staff are working harder than ever now to keep all children safe where they belong: in families. Jasmina Zulfikarpašić leads our team of social workers and psychologists in Bosnia & Herzegovina. Here she explains how the pandemic is affecting the children and families they are working to support.

The first week of the shutdown was really difficult. People here are very scared. Nobody knows what will happen or how to protect themselves because we have an enemy, but we can’t see him. Many people said that this situation reminds them of the war that we had before.

 

“There are still 66 children in the Bjelave orphanage in Sarajevo. They are at higher risk of infection than children in a family.”

 

We are all working remotely from home now to support children in institutions who preparing to be reunited with their families, fostered or adopted, young care leavers and vulnerable families in the community whose children are at risk of being sent to the institutions. We are doing all we can to stay in touch by phone, monitor the situation and act in any emergency as necessary

 

“They need hugs and reassurance when they are scared just like other children, but staff cannot respond to so many, protect them or give them all the things that children need.”

 

There are still 66 children in the Bjelave orphanage, the main children’s institution in Sarajevo, that we are working to close. Because they are all together in one place, they are at higher risk of infection than children in a family. If one baby catches the virus, it could easily spread to the others and the staff, so we are helping to organise masks and protective clothing for the carers.

We’re are doing all we can to help the children in the institution to stay in touch with their biological parents and potential foster-parents, online or by phone, because no one can visit them. They need hugs and reassurance when they are scared just like other children, but staff cannot respond to so many, protect them or give them all the things that children need.

 

“If families lose their jobs, then everything changes… social services will say that the family cannot care for their children and take them to the orphanage”

 

Our families in the community are very scared because everything is closed—kindergarten, schools, universities, public transportation, restaurants, shopping centres, everything. And so many people have lost their jobs or are at risk of losing their jobs. Our families are very vulnerable in this situation. And it’s hard for children because it’s very difficult to explain to young children why they cannot go outside and play and how dangerous the situation is.

I am worried about will happen when all this is over. If families lose their jobs, then everything changes. That’s my biggest concern and not just for the children and families who are in our programme now. I am worried that if other families lose their income, then social services will say that the family cannot care for their children and take the children from the families to the orphanage because they have no means of financial support.

 

“We have managed to find foster care for a baby from the orphanage who has epilepsy. The foster mum who took the baby really is one amazing woman.”

 

Last week we had a situation where we managed to prevent three children being taken away from their parents because they had lost their home in a fire. We intervened and arranged for the mother and the children to stay with a relative. Then we managed to safely deliver food and essential supplies to them.

In another case, we have managed to find foster care for a baby from the orphanage who has epilepsy. The foster mum who took the baby really is one amazing woman. She didn’t think about the pandemic and current situation, she just wanted to protect the baby. He needs special medication and it’s hard to find but we called round all the pharmacies until we managed to locate some and deliver it to them safely.

As a team, we’re in touch every day. We exchange information about the children and families in our programmes but also about our own families. We share some fun things too, just to take our minds off the situation for a moment. I think that’s good.